Given the critical backlash among some quarters, I’m not sure that saying that “obvious comparisons to folk-rockers Mumford & Sons abound” in the PR blurb is such a good idea. Not least since, to these ears at least, they don’t. While the Mumfords draw on a solid folk bedrock, the Exeter quartet have flown the country flag since their 2008 debut album, Songs That Remind Me Of You, while excellent follow up In Another Life also had very definite Springsteen touches.
Despite good reviews, both went largely overlooked by all but the more informed of the Americana-buying public but hopefully On Your Side , their third, will find a wider audience.
As with its predecessor there’s often a strong anthemic feel, bolstered by yearning pedal steel (courtesy Ray Hill), Joe Mansfield’s aching fiddle and frontman Will Odgers’ ringing guitar and keening vocals, not to mention the sort of swelling melody lines that make you either want to punch the sky or collapse in a puddle of tears over some pain-numbing whisky glass.
It’s the latter that sets things rolling with the piano and steel backed lean on me ballad A Room as Odgers asks “have you got a place to lay your head down”, adding “they can’t hurt you now”. It’s so good it took me three attempts before I could move on to the second track, the pace shiftingly jaunty The Shame, a skip in your step tune complete with whoo hoo backing vocals, though it would have been better sequenced after the organ backed, emotionally wistful Carry You rather than so quickly disrupting the mood.
It’s not the only uptempo number, Pictures On The Wall opens sounding ominously as if it might burst into Wonderful Christmastime but thankfully resolves into a bouncy memory of an old romance with a saloon bar piano solo before the equally reflective (no pun intended) The Lights brings a circling guitar figure and a drum beat and tumbling rhythm reminiscent of Buddy Holly.
However, it’s on the slower tracks where they shine brightest, the Wilco meets Robin Gibb moodiness of It’s Not Our Turn laying the ground for a double knockout finale with the sad waltzing Every Minute and sadness soaked funeral march Make It Work as it builds to a piano and violin coda that takes up half of its near seven minute playing time. Don’t go looking for or seek to avoid a Mumfords soundalike, Count To Fire burn with a flame of their own.
Review by: Mike Davies
Make It Work (Live)
Pictures On The Wall
Released by Neo Records, out now